BBC News

Australian DJs face backlash over hoax death

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

image captionThe 2Day FM radio station in Sydney has suspended commercials until Monday

Accused of having blood on their hands by furious listeners, the Australian DJs at the centre of the UK royal hospital hoax tragedy have been taken off air as the public backlash intensifies.

As the pressure mounts, the bosses of troubled Sydney radio station 2Day FM have suspended until Monday all commercials, after some of Australia's best-known companies, including telecommunications giant Telstra and supermarket heavyweight Coles, withdrew their advertising.

"We understand Australians are clearly angry and upset by what appear to be tragic consequences of the 2Day FM UK hospital prank," Coles announced as news came through of the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha.

Social media have been bombarded with comments, many castigating radio hosts Mel Greig and Michael Christian, whose spoof conversation with hospital staff in London, posing as the Queen and Prince Charles, backfired so disastrously.

The duo have deleted Twitter accounts, as a cascade of criticism came hurtling through cyberspace, including reports of death threats.

"Not so darn funny now is it? A British nurse is DEAD for the sake of a couple of cheap laughs. Shame on you!" wrote one angry contributor to 2Day FM's Facebook page.

Speaking at a press conference, Rhys Holleran, the chief executive of Southern Cross Austereo, which owns the popular Sydney-based music station, said Greig and Christian had been offered counselling.

"I spoke to both presenters early this morning and it's fair to say they're completely shattered. These people aren't machines, they're human beings. We're all affected by this," Mr Holleran said.

'Professional support'

Amid the storm, there is some support and sympathy for the DJs. Jeff Kennett, the chairman of Australia's national depression charity, Beyond Blue, said the radio pair had no intention of causing any harm and urged the public not to condemn them.

image captionDJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian were said to be "shattered"

"This is an absolute tragedy, but the ramifications of which we've got to make sure we don't magnify," said Mr Kennett, the former state premier of Victoria.

"I just hope that they get our support and that their employer provides them with professional support to help them get through what will be a terrible few weeks."

The management of 2Day insists that no laws have been broken, although the station could end up in court for broadcasting a secretly recorded private conversation.

Experts believe, though, that a prosecution is unlikely; the industry regulator will now decide if legislation or codes of practice have been breached.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will investigate several complaints about the pre-recorded prank.

The radio station has received two warnings from the watchdog over previous stunts.

2Day FM is a ratings powerhouse, especially in the lucrative 25-39 age bracket. It remains Sydney's most popular music network, with an audience share of about 10%.

In August 2009, shock-jock Kyle Sandilands was criticised by former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd after a 14-year old girl revealed she had been raped during a lie-detector stunt.

The controversial breakfast show host has revelled in the notoriety and remains a dominant force in the competitive Sydney radio market.

However, the fledgling careers of two colleagues who until this week were largely unknown to most Australians must now be in doubt.

Michael Christian had basked in the attention that he and his colleague Mel Greig, a former reality TV star, had obtained for their hospital hoax.

"The only bad thing about our Royal Prank… is knowing that I will NEVER EVER top this,'' he posted on Facebook. "Less than a week in the job & I've already peaked."

Station bosses have ordered the pair to keep out of the spotlight before they decide when and if they can return to the airwaves.

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